RENO, NV - Connie Johnson wasn't prepared for what was found in a delinquent unit at the self storage business she manages in Golden Valley.
A man had bid on its contents, but when he cleaned it out he found what appeared to be a funeral urn.
On the urn, a plaque with the name Larry Hollifield. But who was he and where was his family?
"I thought I can't track down a delinquent client. How am I going to track down his family?" asks Johnson.
It might have ended there, but Johnson couldn't let it go.
"I thought if it was me and someone had found my grandfather or dad's ashes, I'd want them back."
"I said 'Larry, I don't know how you ended up here, but I'm going to find your home."
She decided to open the urn.
"I talked with him and told him I was going to figure this out, that I was sorry to disturb him."
She expected to find ashes. "I just stood there and stared. There's no ashes in here."
But there were other items and Johnson was determined to get them to the family.
"It took a little bit of detective work."
In fact, the search was difficult with at least one false lead that had her looking in Virginia, but the urn contained the photos of two young girls. They provided the lead she needed. Johnson found them right here in northern Nevada.
"I got a message from a lady I didn't know on Facebook who asked if I was related to a Larry Hollifield," says daughter Richele Dickerson. "And I said yes and she told me this amazing story."
"She said you have read this," says sister Stephanie Dickerson, "and I was just baffled.
Hollifield died in a construction accident in Carson City in November of 1993. A loving father, he was fondly remembered by his two daughters, but they had no memory of the urn. In fact no one had any reason to believe it still existed.
"I'd always understood that it had been buried after his ashes were scattered," says Michele Hansen, Stephanie and Richele's mother.
It's discovery alone had given the girls a powerful reconnection with a father long gone.
"To see it was amazing," says Richele.
"We never had a place to go to mourn," adds Stephanie. "Now we had something to hold on to."
It was more than enough, but it was time to find out what was inside.
All three agreed they were curious, but anxious,
Unscrewing the bottom of the urn, they saw what was inside.
First the the cremation certificate.
Then the pictures, Johnson had told them she'd used to find them.
Richele pulled a t-shirt from the box, held it to her face and inhaled.
It smelled, she said. like her father.
The last item was a medical prescription bottle. Johnson had seen it and puzzled over its presence.
They looked closer.
Inside, something no one had expected.
"There are ashes in here," gasped Richele.
The three women were stunned..
"He was in here," whisphered Stephanie, fighting back tears.
As promised, Larry Hollifield was home.
The family says they'll take their time deciding what to do with the ashes, but they say these will not be scattered.
They're still left with one mystery. How did the urn and its contents end up in a Golden Valley storage unit?
That's an answer they vow to find.